Sally McKenney is a self-described "sprinkle lover" and author of a new cookbook based on her popular blog Sally's Baking Addiction. She says baking doesn't have to be intimidating and wants her followers to experiment along with her.
One of those experiments paid off last year, when she won a Nestle Toll House recipe contest. She calls her salty chocolate-caramel treat her "$5,000 cookie." If stuffing caramel into a chocolate cookie sounds hard, read on to find out how she does it.
Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate Cookies
Prep time: 20 minutes. Total time: 2 hours, 50 minutes. Makes 16-17 cookies.
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (80 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (100 grams) light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (30 ml) milk
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips (or semisweet)
18 chocolate-coated caramel candies, such as Rolo
coarse sea salt
Whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside.
Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar together in a large bowl on medium speed until creamed, about 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
With the mixer running on low, slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until combined. Add the milk. With a large spoon or rubber spatula, fold the chocolate chips into the dough. The dough will be heavy and sticky. Cover and chill for at least 1 to 2 hours.
Take the dough out of the refrigerator and allow to slightly soften at room temperature for 10 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Set aside.
Take 2 tablespoons of chilled dough, split in half and roll each into a ball with your hands. Stick a caramel into 1 ball of dough. Top the caramel with the other ball of dough and seal the sides so that the caramel is securely stuffed inside. Repeat with the rest of the dough and caramel candies. Sprinkle each with sea salt before putting into the oven.
Bake for 12 to 13 minutes. Cookies will appear undone and very soft. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for at least 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies stay fresh in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 7 days.
Sally's Tip: The trick to stuffing the caramel candy inside is to make sure the dough completely envelops it. Otherwise you'll have a leaking caramel mess on your cookie sheets!
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Finally today, a sweet treat. Wedding season is almost here. Those wedding invitations are probably starting to hit your mailbox, and that means you're probably looking forward to some wedding cake. But more and more couples are going nontraditional, so don't be surprised if you see pies, cupcakes or even cookies this spring. And maybe that will inspire you to try your own hand in the kitchen. Our next guest says you should not be intimidated, so get in there and start sifting some flour. Sally McKenney is author of the new cookbook "Sally's Baking Addiction," based on her very popular blog by the same name. And she is with us now. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
SALLY MCKENNEY: Hi. Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: You get 3 to 4 million hits per month on your blog...
MARTIN: "Sally's Baking Addiction." What do you think it is that people respond to?
MCKENNEY: Oh, my gosh, the sugar and the chocolate.
MARTIN: That's true. But there are a lot of other food blogs out there.
MCKENNEY: That's true. Well, I think that they love how personable I am and how I'm not afraid to share the mistakes that I make. And I share all of those experiences in the kitchen to help my readers kind of grow and become better bakers as well - and also, the food photography.
MARTIN: Amazingly, you take all the photographs yourself, which make me hungry every time I look at them. But one of the things I notice, though, about your recipes is that they are things that are familiar to a lot of us but amped up. How do you come up with your ideas?
MCKENNEY: I get asked that a lot. And I just - I really just think about all of the tastes and the foods that I love or the sweet treats that I love, and I try to combine them in a new way so readers can experiment in the kitchen, too.
MARTIN: Well, you know, to that end - and, you know, we've just gotten past Oscar season and kind of the movie awards season. And you are also an award-winner...
MARTIN: ..By some lights perhaps even more important than the Oscar. Last year, you won a Nestle Toll House contest with what you call your $5,000 cookie. Tell us about it.
MCKENNEY: Yes, I was approached by Nestle to do their dark chocolate recipe contest with 10 other really talented food bloggers. And we had to each create a recipe using their dark chocolate chips. And we all did, and we posted them on our food blogs. And our readers really just had to vote for them. Tons of my readers made the cookies, reported back with great results. I love the cookies myself, so I talked them up a lot, too. And they're super simple to make, just...
MARTIN: Well, how did you come up with this idea? They're essentially - they are - first of all, these are just my dream come true.
MARTIN: Let me just be honest here. They have dark chocolate. They have chocolate chips. They are stuffed with caramel, and they have, like...
MARTIN: ...A little of the...
MCKENNEY: Sea salt.
MARTIN: ...Sea salt - a little coarse sea salt on top. This is, like, my dream...
MCKENNEY: I love...
MARTIN: ...But I didn't think of it.
MCKENNEY: I know.
MARTIN: So I want to know, like, how did you...
MARTIN: ...Come up with the idea of, like, stuffing the caramel in there?
MCKENNEY: That is a good question. I love salted caramel. I love salty-sweet treats, and I just wanted to combine kind of a different flavor with dark chocolate. I was originally going to do a peanut butter dark chocolate recipe, but I thought this may have grabbed more attention to win the contest. So I love salty-sweet, and the recipe just kind of went on from there.
MARTIN: I'm sorry. Were you saying something? I'm just kind of eating the cookie here. Are you talking? I'm sorry.
MCKENNEY: Don't you love how soft they are?
MARTIN: I'm just kind of in a cookie...
MCKENNEY: They taste like a brownie.
MARTIN: I'm kind of in a cookie heaven here.
MARTIN: I'm sorry to be chewing, but - how did you come up with - one of the key ingredients is you have, like, a chocolate-covered caramel that you stick in the middle.
MCKENNEY: Well, I just use Rolo candies.
MARTIN: But, I mean, seriously, I'm just trying to figure out how your mind works. I mean, do we - like, walking down the checkout aisle, and you saw them by the register, and you thought, well, I'll throw this in there?
MCKENNEY: I actually do do that. Yes, I walk down the candy aisle - what can I bake with this? What can I bake with that? And recipes kind of come from that.
MARTIN: The book isn't all dessert. You have a few breakfast items like sticky pecan rolls and vanilla crepes with Nutella and French toast, brown sugar-glazed apple bread, things like that. Now are you just kind of being politically correct here and just...
MCKENNEY: I'm trying - I try to make something for everyone. And there's eight different chapters, so I wanted to do something in every kind of baked good category, so lots of breakfast, lots of muffins and cookies and cupcakes. Cupcakes are my favorite chapter.
MARTIN: Now you said - you say in the book, and you write on the blog that you actually grew up with home-baked goods, right?
MCKENNEY: Yes. Yeah, I got a lot of this from my grandmother. She's no longer with us. I actually dedicated the book to her. She was always in the kitchen when my sisters and I were young. And my mom and her, they would make - you know, we had tons of holiday traditions with all of their home-baked goodies and foods. And they just got us into the experience of being in the kitchen with them. And it's kind of stuck with me.
MARTIN: What would you recommend for people who didn't grow up as you did, knowing how to bake and knowing how to cook - even some basic things like how to use a spatula and stuff like that?
MCKENNEY: Well, with my recipes in general, if you just take your time with the recipes and read through them ahead of time, they're really not that intimidating. And it's not that hard to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch or these dark chocolate cookies from scratch. If you just take your time and read through the ingredients, you'll notice that all the ingredients are relatively familiar and normal, and they're relatively quick, too. I mean, we all don't have tons of time in the day to be in the kitchen but...
MARTIN: OK, so fess up. Have you ever had a real disaster?
MCKENNEY: All the time.
MARTIN: Really? Like what? Like what - like, what was just awful and nobody would eat it, not even the dog?
MCKENNEY: Well, the other day I actually burnt the pizza. I was making a barbecue chicken pizza, and I forgot about it in the oven. And it was in there on broil for about 20 minutes.
MARTIN: Oh, no.
MCKENNEY: It was terrible. The smell was awful - awful. I felt nauseous going in there. But, yes, I make mistakes, too. And I've left rising dough in the refrigerator for too long, and it explodes over the bowl. So I make mistakes, too.
MARTIN: Well, that's good to hear. We hear also that there are wedding bells in your future.
MARTIN: I hope you don't mind me mentioning that. And I understand - I don't know - you're from Pennsylvania, but...
MARTIN: You know, a lot of people from Pennsylvania have the tradition of a cookie table at a wedding. In fact, I am told that the marriage won't survive unless there's a cookie table...
MCKENNEY: I've heard of that before.
MARTIN: Have you heard this? I've heard that this is a very serious thing.
MCKENNEY: Yeah, I have heard of it before. We're not doing it at our wedding, but I would...
MARTIN: You're not doing it?
MARTIN: I don't know if it's - I don't know what to say. I'm not sure I can...
MCKENNEY: Well, I wouldn't mind...
MARTIN: ...Predict the future here, but...
MCKENNEY: ...If my guests brought their own cookies to my wedding. That means I wouldn't have to bake anything.
MARTIN: Are you going to bake for your own wedding, or is that just too much pressure?
MCKENNEY: No, I'm not.
MARTIN: Way too much pressure.
MCKENNEY: It's too much pressure. I'm going to be too nervous about my wedding dress and fitting into my wedding dress.
MARTIN: But don't you think that's kind of a lot of pressure on whoever bakes for you?
MCKENNEY: Yes. That's why I'm not going to tell them who I am, or try not to...
MARTIN: Too late. Too late. Well, congratulations on everything.
MCKENNEY: Thank you.
MARTIN: Sally McKenney is an author of the new cookbook "Sally's Baking Addiction." She has a blog by the same name. She was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studios with cookies. To get the recipe for Sally's salted caramel dark chocolate cookies, just go to NPR.org/TELLMEMORE. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.